“Warp drives” which could propel humanity to the stars faster than the speed of light will be discussed this week by space experts in Dallas, Texas.
Spacecraft propelled by antimatter, harvested by robotic factories on Mercury will be under discussion - as will spacecraft made from hollowed-out asteroids and a laser-beam “highway” to provide energy for ships to “hop” to nearby stars.
Some of these technologies may come into being within 20 years, the organisers claim - but the goal is interstellar travel by 2100, visiting planets such as those found by NASA’s Kepler space telescope.
The President of the organisation behind the conference, Icarus Interstellar, Richard Obousy, says that the effort to journey to the stars will have such, “a long lasting and positive effect on our species that all past accomplishments will pale in comparison."
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Experts from NASA and space organisations around the world will discuss the technologies required to take humanity to the stars - starting with small probes, and ending with manned missions.
Spacecraft with “solar sails” may be the first to venture beyond our solar system - but others rely on nuclear fusion, harnessing the energy of the hydrogen bomb, much like Star Trek’s “Impulse Drive”, which the Enterprise uses to steer through solar systems.
Dr Rob Adams - a speaker at the conference - says that the technology is feasible now, “We just have to make something blow up. There are very facilities working on this right now. We’ve looked at models where we could get to Mars in three months and actually stop there.”
Other speakers at the conference believe that the work is essential to ensure the long-term survival of the human race.
Dr Friedwart Winterberg, a theoretical physicist from the University of Nevada, says, “For the human species and its unique culture to survive the death of the sun, a bridge must be built to other solar systems with earthlike planets.
“The Kepler space telescope has discovered a large number of extrasolar planets, but only a few with earthlike conditions, and those are many light years away. I can see two ways to reach them - first, at 10% of the speed of light via deuterium fusion bomb propulsion, harvesting the deuterium in the comets of the Oort clouds surrounding our and other suns, and by hopping from comet to comet.”
Winterberg suggests that spacecraft could be accelerated even further - to near the speed of light - by using the reactions between matter and antimatter.
The production of antihydrogen “can be done with solar energy in robotic factories on the planet Mercury. Very large masses must be lifted in one stage into low Earth orbit, which can be done by chemically ignited pulsed pure fusion bomb propulsion.”
Many of the projects are looking at new fields of physics - and forward to breakthroughs which may not occur for decades. But the organisers are keen to point out that this is science, not science fiction.
“Up until recently, interstellar space flight has only been in the realms of science fiction,” days Discovery News’s Dr Ian O’Neill. “In Star Trek, each episode lasts 45 minutes and they visit ten star systems. But the Kepler space telescope’s discovery of extrasolar planets has shown us alien worlds for the first time - and people are asking, “How do we get there?”.
“This isn’t interplanetary travel - which is already very hard - we’re talking interstellar distances. We are suddenly able to communicate the fact that we are in the middle of a void. It’s at least 100 years away.”